Cutter design contract on hold while shipyard protests are pending

The biggest acquisition contract in the U.S. Coast Guard’s 224-year history was put on hold in the wake of protests filed by two coastal Mississippi shipyards.
Eight shipyards on all three coasts submitted proposals in the $10.5 billion program to build 25 new offshore patrol cutters (OPCs) to replace an aging fleet.

The Coast Guard in February selected Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, La.; Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, Fla.; and Maine’s General Dynamics Bath Iron Works to receive $21.95 million each to develop preliminary design concepts in a competition for the main construction contract.

However, Huntington Ingalls Industries and VT Halter Marine, both in Pascagoula, Miss., have filed protests with the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) after failing to make the cut.

“We can acknowledge both protests and that all preliminary and contract design work is paused until the protests are resolved,” Coast Guard spokesman Brian Olexy said. Coast Guard officials are prevented from further commenting because the GAO has issued a protective order covering all parties in the dispute.

The Coast Guard is buying new OPCs with cutting-edge technology to replace its medium endurance cutters, some dating back to the 1960s and still in hard service. The legacy cutters are the workhorses of the Coast Guard’s fleet. They include 14 of the 210-foot Reliance class, 13 of the 270-foot Famous class and a 282-foot Alex Haley-class vessel built in 1964.

Half of the nation’s 10 leading coastal shipyards are locked in the protest process, all vying for the record-breaking cutter contracts. None of the yards responded to requests for information on the contract challenges.

The GAO said the reasons for the two protests could not be revealed under the order, which also seals all filings by the parties. The GAO has 100 days to issue decisions in the protests, pushing the pause on the first phase of the massive contract into the first week of June.

Huntington Ingalls issued a statement saying the company decided to protest the Coast Guard’s decision after being debriefed on the OPC evaluation. “Ingalls Shipbuilding offered the Coast Guard a strong, fully compliant proposal to provide a very capable, cost-effective offshore patrol cutter design and (we) believe our protest has merit,” the Ingalls Pascagoula yard said.

Maine Sen. Angus King said the new OPC would be a welcome and valuable addition to the Coast Guard’s fleet. “Bath Iron Works, with its outstanding record of designing, building and providing life-cycle support services, is well positioned to construct this future-generation ship,” King said.

Other competitors were Marinette Marine of Marinette, Wis., General Dynamics Nassco of San Diego, and Vigor Shipyards of Seattle.

After the GAO issues a decision, any party that is dissatisfied with the outcome may file for reconsideration. The final contract for detailed design and construction is scheduled for award in 2016.

By Professional Mariner Staff